The first speaker, Alan Tupek from National Science Foundation (NSF), presented the FEDSTATS web site which can be accessed at http://www.fedstats.gov and is being developed as the one-stop shop for Federal statistics. In the United States, the Federal Statistical System is decentralized which leads to the following issues: a wide array of statistics of national interest, data collected with different processes, related data from multiple sources, independent development of databases systems, and no common taxonomy (although some work is being done in this area).
In May 1996, the White House WWW Briefing Rooms were established for Economic and Social Statistics http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/html/briefroom.html, which pulled together some 100 key statistics from various agencies. To extend the Briefing Rooms to a broader coverage, an Interagency Task Force was formed, including Office of Management and Budget, BLS, Bureau of the Census, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Stat-USA, NSF, and Energy Information Administration, which had as its main charge to provide easy access to the vast array of Federal Statistics to the general public. FEDSTATS went public in May 1997. The site provides an A-Z lookup with approximately 300 topics; a keyword search using Verity Search Engine, covering 14 of the 70 agencies statistical web page areas and growing; access by agency name; access through 14 general program topics; and access by regional areas. The site attracts about 70,000 sessions per month.
A study of users seeking statistical information in Federal Web Sites was completed by Carol Hert, Indiana University, and Gary Marchionini, University of Maryland. The report can be found at http://www.glue.umd.edu/~dlrg/blsreport/mainbls.html. The vision of FEDSTATS as the Virtual Data Center is to use more common interfaces and better search tools across agencies, to facilitate appropriate uses of data, to encourage use by people with different levels of statistical and computer literacy, and to facilitate analysis within and between databases. Possible other enhancements include: developing a strategy for implementing an across agency thesaurus, improving user recognition of location within a site as well as between site movement, defining metadata tagging standards, designing audio-visual tours, and designing a K-12 interface. Further research sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on user seeking behavior, latent semantic indexing, and table extraction are also planned.
The next speaker, Juliette Healey, Economist from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), presented the IMF's Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB) which can be accessed at http://dsbb.imf.org and provides information on countries dissemination practices for key financial and economic data. Following the Mexican financial crisis in 1994/95, the IMF sought to improve the provision of economic and financial data by countries to the public. The outcome was the establishment of data dissemination standards to which countries could voluntarily subscribe. The first of two standards, the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS) was established in April 1996 for IMF member countries having, or seeking, access to world capital markets. The second part of the standards initiative, the General Data Dissemination System (GDDS), is currently being developed and will be aimed at all IMF members.
In September 1996, the IMF launched the DSBB web site. The site is a tool for market analysts and others who track economic growth, inflation, and other economic and financial developments in countries around the world. The DSBB provides key information about economic and financial data disseminated by IMF member countries that subscribe to the Special Standard. The indicators in the Special Standard cover the real, fiscal, financial and external sectors and include: gross domestic product; production; prices; labor market data; government receipts, expenditures, surplus/deficit, financing and debt; monetary aggregates and domestic credit; interest rates; balance of payments; merchandise trade; international reserves; and exchange rates, among others. As well as providing information on the coverage, timeliness, and periodicity of the data, the integrity and quality aspects of the data and access by the public are also important. In addition, contact information for each data category is provided to help users go directly to the data source. The DSBB site is simple, quick to load and easy to navigate.
Metadata is the content focus of the DSBB, where the compliance of each country with the various elements of the standard is described. Even though the site itself contains no data, electronic links (hyperlinks) enable users to move directly from a country's metadata on the DSBB to up-to-date economic and financial data on an Internet site maintained by the country. In developing the hyperlinks, the IMF worked with SDDS countries to design a national summary data page that balanced the usefulness of common format across countries with the flexibility to accommodate variations in national practice. Each national summary data page shows, as a minimum, both the latest and the preceding observation for each of the data categories covered by the SDDS. Further hyperlinks from the national summary data page to other data that the country has available on the Internet are encouraged. The development of a national summary data page is voluntary but in addition, to the 12 already in place, many other countries have indicated their intention to develop such sites.
The IMF invites users of the site to register. Having a list of users has helped provide useful feedback. Future enhancements of the IMF's DSBB include: adding summary methodologies which will provide more information on how the data are compiled; investigating what users want and whether there is a useful role for push technology; and improving the processes involved in maintaining the site.